1851: Good lower Columbia CW sentences

Preserved from the frontier period in the mind of a sharp observer…


How Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon” by Oliver W. Nixon (Chicago, IL: Star Publishing Co., 1895).

Pages 54-56:

In 1851 the writer of this book was purser upon the steamer Lot Whitcomb, which ran between Milwaukee and Astoria, Oregon. One beautiful morning I wandered a mile or more down the beach and was seated upon the sand, watching the great combers as they rolled in from the Pacific, which, after a storm, is an especially grand sight; when suddenly, as if he had arisen from the ground, an Indian appeared near by and accosted me. He was a fine specimen of a savage, clean and well dressed. He evidently knew who I was and my position on the steamer and had followed me to make his plea. With a toss of his arm and a motion of his body he threw the fold of his blanket across his left shoulder as gracefully as a Roman Senator could have done, and began his speech. “Hy-iu hyas kloshe Boston, Boston hy-iu steamboat hy-iu cuitan. Indian halo steamboat, halo cuitan.” It was a rare mixture of English words with the Chinook, which I easily understood.

The burthen of his speech was, the greatness and richness and goodness of white men; (they called all white men Boston men); they owned all the steamboats and horses; that the Indians were very poor; that his squaw and pappoose were away up the Willamette river, so far away that his moccasins would be worn out before he could reach their wigwam; that he had no money and wanted to ride.

I have heard the great orators of the nation in the pulpit and halls of legislation, but I never listened to a more eloquent plea, or saw gestures more graceful than were those of that wild Wasco Indian, of which I alone was the audience.

I see no special reason to believe that the man speaking was a Wasco Upper Chinookan, if the writer didn’t know him. Assuming his wife and child’s being “up the Willamette river” is connected with his home, he may have been a Clackamas or other Upper Chinookan.

And don’t take it too literally when the writer says this was “a rare mixture of English words with the Chinook”! The speaker was talking straight, normal Chinuk Wawa. As you know, CW contains words from Native languages as well as English every day of the week, not jumbled haphazardly as the author’s phrasing might be (mis-)interpreted.

Surely the writer spoke excellent Jargon himself, as he has accurately remembered 44 years later what a fluent user of early-creolized CW said:

Hy-iu hyas kloshe Boston,
háyú hayas-ɬúsh [1] bástən. [2]
many very-good American.
‘There are lots of excellent Americans.’

Boston hy-iu steamboat hy-iu cuitan.
bástən háyú stímbot(,) [3] háyú kʰíyutən.
American many steamboat, many horse.
‘Americans have lots of steamboats and lots of horses.’

Indian halo steamboat, halo cuitan.
índjən* [4] hílu stímbot, hílu kʰíyutən.
Native none steamboat, none horse.
‘The Natives have no steamboats and no horses.’

Notes on that CW:

hayas-ɬúsh [1] is the usual early-creolized Chinuk Wawa formation for ‘very good’. The Intensifier prefix hayas- dropped out of the southern dialect soon after this, during the Grand Ronde Reservation period, being replaced with adverbs, especially drét ‘really’.

háyú hayas-ɬúsh bástən. [2] The intention of ‘There are many excellent Americans’ appears, when we take the writer’s comments into account, to be that ‘There are lots of Americans doing well in life,’ ‘There are lots of prosperous Americans.’

bástən háyú stímbot [3] uses no overt “copula” word for ‘have’, but this is a common enough phrasing for possession in CW of the time. Alternatively, the speaker could have said ‘The Americans have lots of steamboats’ as bástən míɬayt háyú stímbot. From Grand Ronde Reservation times onward, you could say bástən t’úʔan háyú stímbot.

bástən háyú stímbot(,) háyú kʰíyutən. [4] Here’s another instance where fluent speakers habitually use no word at all, in this instance for a conjunction to express ‘and’. I’ve amply documented how folks tended to omit any such word in CW (like pi) when speaking of members of a single conceptual category, in this case, items of wealth. This same pi-less structure is used in the final sentence about Native people’s lack of those items.

índjən* [4] is a less common, more recently borrowed word for ‘Native people’ than the established sáwásh.

The brevity of the above statement increases the plausibility of the author’s having accurately remembered it for several decades. It’s very good material.


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